“Thirty-Nine Lashes — Well Laid On”: Crime and Punishment in Southside Virginia 1750-1950
by Herman Melton

Herman Melton's <cite>“Thirty-Nine Lashes — Well Laid On”: Crime and Punishment in Southside Virginia 1750-1950</cite>

2002, published by the author. Index. 386pp. 6.2 x 9.3 inches. Hardcover with dust jacket. Mitchells Publications Catalog #Melton001.

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Notes from the Dust Jacket

The Book

The system of justice that enforces the duties of citizenship in the Southside Virginia counties of Bedford, Campbell, Franklin, Halifax, Henry, Patrick, and Pittsylvania was not in place in 1750. Rather, it evolved slowly and painfully from a system of laws that applied justice differently to each of four classes of society. There was one type of justice for the landed gentry, another for the indentured servants, one for the Native Americans and still another for African born slaves. Conversely, modern law enforcement is usually applied equally in our supposedly classless society. How this democracy came to the Southside is the thread that links the narrative and embodies its central message.

This book is, as the title implies, an account of some of the crimes committed by citizens of the Southside and the punishment meted out for such violations from Colonial days to the period shortly after WWII.

There are examples of every kind of violent crime including treason, murder, rape, riot, robbery, lynching and infanticide. Examples of less serious crimes such as fraud, conspiracy, illicit manufacture of alcohol, practicing medicine without a license and many others make their appearance. In like manner, examples of every type of punishment known during the two-hundred-year period are given. These include palm burning, imprisonment, whipping, banishment, hanging, electrocuting, castration and the installation of chains.

The author demonstrates vividly the brutality and horrors of the institution of slavery by recounting many instances of inhuman treatment of chattels.

Interesting Southside court records of crime and punishment will interest the reader. Included are some mention of the Tory trials which gave birth to the phrase “Lynch Law.” Accounts of the spectacular Confederate deserter manhunts that were sponsored on the home front during the Civil War are unique. Other examples includes crimes committed by Reconstruction “Carpetbaggers.”

Southside Virginia's most significant judicial crisis came with the arrest of six of its County Judges for violation of the 14th Amendment. The case made headlines in the nation's press and spawned two U. S. Supreme Court cases.

Accounts of several tragic Southside lynchings are included as well as folk legends such as the Joe Clark murder, trial and execution. The reader's attention will be riveted to the account of the three-year-long Fowlkes vs. Fowlkes civil suit and the Franklin County liquor conspiracy trial of 1935.

In view of the 20th century's increase in the national crime rate, Melton's book is timely and long overdue.

The Author

Herman Melton

Herman Melton, a retired engineer, has published five books and several monographs on various topics in Pittsylvania County Virginia history. He is a past president of the Pittsylvania Historical Society and was editor of its quarterly, The Pittsylvania Packet, for four years.

As an amateur writer/historian, he has been the recipient of grants to do research and writing as an independent Scholar in Residence at the Center of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1986 and 1988 respectively.

Melton is a graduate of the United States Merchant Marine Academy and holds a Masters Degree from the University of Virginia. He and his wife Helen, who is a published author of local historical fiction, reside in Chatham, Virginia.

Cover Art

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